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September 8, 2018

The Roughriders complete a sweep of the Bombers

Five plus two equalled four Saturday.

Five interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns, helped the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders stretch their winning streak to four games with a 32-27 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field. The Roughriders improved to 7-4-0 on the season.

“It was one of the craziest games I’ve been involved with,” Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones told reporters in Winnipeg when asked about a contest in which the teams combined for three pick-sixes, seven turnovers and 19 penalties for 237 yards.

“I’m proud of our guys. It was a tough atmosphere. We had numerous injuries where we had people playing out of position. Kudos to our coaches for getting them aligned and (making sure we) ended up not leaving anybody uncovered or anything like that.”

Saskatchewan, which defeated Winnipeg 31-23 in the Labour Day Classic on Sunday, posted its first sweep since 2014 in the annual home-and-home series with the Bombers.

Winnipeg (5-7-0) lost its fourth straight game and fell four points back of the Roughriders, but Saskatchewan already has won the season series. The three-game set concludes with a contest Oct. 13 in Winnipeg.

The victory may have been costly for the Roughriders, though. Starting quarterback Zach Collaros left the game early in the fourth quarter after getting blindsided by Winnipeg defensive back Jeff Hecht.

Collaros, who missed four-plus games earlier this season with head and neck injuries, was placed in the CFL’s concussion protocol Saturday and didn’t return. Jones didn’t have an update on Collaros after the game.

Backup Brandon Bridge took the reins of the offence after Collaros left and led the Roughriders on two drives that culminated in Brett Lauther field goals — three-pointers that turned a 27-26 deficit into a 32-27 lead.

“As a backup quarterback, you’ve got to be prepared to go in there and finish the game,” said Bridge, who completed three of six pass attempts for 32 yards. “The team leaned on me and we got the win.”

Will Bridge be ready to start Saskatchewan’s game Saturday against the visiting Ottawa Redblacks if Collaros can’t go?

“I’m going to have to be,” Bridge said. “I’m definitely going to be prepared. I’m definitely going to be ready. But I think Zach will feel fine.”

The Bombers led 10-0 after Saturday’s first quarter following a 28-yard field goal by Justin Medlock, a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown by Anthony Gaitor and Medlock’s conversion of that major.

Winnipeg appeared to be on the verge of adding to its advantage early in the second quarter, but Roughriders defensive end Willie Jefferson snared a Matt Nichols pass at the Saskatchewan 13-yard line and returned the interception 97 yards for a touchdown. Lauther added the convert to make the score 10-7.

The Bombers regained their two-score lead at 7:48 of the second quarter, when Chris Streveler scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Medlock’s convert put Winnipeg ahead 17-7.

Lauther kicked field goals of 17 yards (at 10:36 of the second quarter) and 37 yards (at 13:17) to cut the lead to 17-13. Then Sam Eguavoen went to work.

First, the Roughriders’ linebacker intercepted a pass that was tipped to him by Ed Gainey near the Saskatchewan goal line. But that pick was wiped out when Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea successfully challenged for pass interference.

The penalty gave Winnipeg a first down at the Roughriders’ seven-yard line. On the next play, Nichols threw the ball while under pressure right to Eguavoen, who returned it 103 yards for a TD.

That was Saskatchewan’s seventh defensive touchdown of the season. Eguavoen joined Nick Marshall (two interceptions), Duron Carter (interception), Tobi Antigha (interception), Charleston Hughes (fumble) and Jefferson with return TDs.

The Roughriders’ sixth pick-six of the season also tied the team’s single-season record, which was set in 1976.

“Anytime we’ve had a plus-two turnover ratio, we haven’t lost a ball game since we’ve been here in our three years,” said Jones, whose team also got two interceptions Saturday from Loucheiz Purifoy and one from Mike Edem. “That’s part of our deal: We’ve got to take the ball away.”

The major was Eguavoen’s second of the season; he also scored after blocking a punt and returning it 30 yards to paydirt against the Calgary Stampeders on Aug. 19.

On Saturday, Lauther’s convert gave the Roughriders the 20-17 lead they took into halftime.

Nichols had 165 passing yards at the intermission, but the Roughriders had 216 return yards off his three interceptions.

After field goals by Lauther of 38 yards (at 4:55 of the third) and 23 yards (11:26) gave the Roughriders a 26-17 lead, Streveler threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Petermann at 4:40 of the fourth. Medlock added the convert to cut the deficit to 26-24.

The Bombers took the lead at 8:11 on Medlock’s 21-yard field goal, but Lauther’s fifth three-pointer of the game, a 15-yarder at 12:12, put the Roughriders ahead 29-27. The Roughriders’ kicker completed the scoring with a 45-yard field goal at 14:14 of the fourth.

Tailback Tre Mason turned in his finest performance as a Rider, rushing 20 times for 117 yards — the first time he has surpassed the century mark in the CFL. Jordan Williams-Lambert was Saskatchewan’s leading receiver with five catches and 71 yards.

Bombers tailback Andrew Harris, who rushed 15 times for 158 yards in the Labour Day Classic, was held to 21 yards on 10 carries in the rematch.

The sweep of the Bombers helped Saskatchewan go 4-2-0 in a six-game stretch against West Division rivals.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who believe in each other,” said Jones, whom the Roughriders hired in December of 2015. “We have some very good athletes who play very hard.

“In our third year here with our program, we feel good. Once we solidify things, we feel like we can compete with anybody.”